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Police forced to show courage legislators lack

Murder of 12 in Virginia Beach and its oceanside monument to fallen police officers.

The Law Enforcement Memorial at Virginia Beach, Virginia
The Law Enforcement Memorial at Virginia Beach, Virginia, where 12 people were murdered Friday at the city’s municipal building.
Neil Steinberg/Chicago Sun-Times

Virginia Beach is, to be honest, kind of a dump.

“A tourist trap” is how I’ve described this unlovely coastal jumble of blockish ocean-facing hotels and pool-heavy motels, neon T-shirt and bicycle surrey rental stands, joints selling fried oysters and fish chowder, cramped stores hawking novelty shot glasses and Virginia is for Lovers beer cozies.

We only visited because we were looking at southern colleges for the younger boy, and the grumpy dad doing all the driving insisted that he’d be damned if he was going to travel all the way from Chicago to the University of Richmond — lovely campus, great business school, they trust their kids with chunks of the endowment to invest, and the best mascot ever, the Spiders — without pushing 100 more miles and sticking his toes in the ocean for a few days.

All things being equal, better to swim at Michigan City and save yourself a drive.

There is, however, on the crowded and over-developed Virginia Beach boardwalk, a curious statue showing three figures, obscured up to their hips by a marble base, each with one hand interlocked, the other reaching down, as if offering passersby below a helping hand.

It is the Virginia Beach Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Dedicated in 2012, it’s inscribed with 14 names of local officers who died in the line of duty. The bronze larger-than-life figures represent the police, the sheriff’s office and federal agencies.

I thought of the statue after what Virginia Beach police chief Jim Cervera called a “horrific event of unbelievable proportion” occurred Friday afternoon: a dozen people murdered at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. Shot dead for ... well, whatever unknowable blend of petty grievance and flaring psychosis (and, never forget, easy access to automatic weaponry) causes a person to do such a thing.

”Unbelievable.” That’s an interesting word choice. While such horror is no doubt difficult to fathom for those directly affected, such crimes have become all-too believable to the rest of the country, who must process them — or, more and more, not process them — with numbing regularity.

We’re not shocked anymore, not really — for that, we need more victims, or kids, or some poignant detail to raise a tingle in our blown-out senses. The seized-up gears of national debate, frozen years ago, barely tremble at each new sign that Something Is Seriously Wrong with America.

I almost let the matter go. There is the good news from Springfield to celebrate. Also on Friday, the Illinois Senate approved the Reproductive Health Act, affirming that abortion is a “fundamental right” of women and not something that religious zealots get to have a say in.

It’s refreshing to see our state, with its multitude of woes, defy the wave of fundamentalism sweeping the nation. Our neighbor Missouri just passed a law that would effectively ban abortion and is trying to close the last provider in the state.

And then there is the legalization of pot, which should be viewed as a way to tax something people do anyway without particular harm to themselves or others. Another day.

We’ve plenty of time to hobbyhorse about abortion and pick apart what it means for Illinois to join the 10 states where recreational pot is already legal.

But that law enforcement statue, designed by Paul DiPasquale, is really quite a good one, and something you’re probably unfamiliar with unless, like me, you’ve done the hundreds of miles of boiled-peanut-fueled driving required to get to Virginia Beach, where the police headquarters is near the Municipal Building. Officers were on the scene almost immediately Friday, according to initial reports. None was killed during the protracted gun battle that ensued — one was shot, but he was saved by his bulletproof vest.

So no need to add any names to the memorial. The Virginia Beach shooting is the worst in the United States since ... gee, last November when a dozen people — including a sheriff’s deputy — were killed inside a college bar in California. That shooter hurled smoke grenades; this one had a silencer, a new twist, and a reminder that America is not responding to these crimes by restricting weaponry, but by making it more accessible.

Earlier this year, a South Carolina congressman reintroduced the “Hearing Protection Act,” a law intended to end federal regulation of silencers. A man slaughtering his colleagues shouldn’t have to worry about hearing loss.